Konstantin’s cable & Google’s tethered space station


Konstantin's cable & Google's tethered space station
NASA artists impression of Konstantin’s cable

Surprisingly it was not a science fiction writer who came up with the idea of tethering a space station at a point on the equator via a hugely long cable, but a Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1895. A real stretch for anyone’s imagination the idea has lasted, and thankfully now has some serious backing thanks to Google.

Google has always encouraged it’s great minds to spend plenty of time on innovation (20% of their paid working week in fact). Now it has been discovered that Google have a secret innovative laboratory called Google X where ideas like the tethered space platform get progressed.

Back in 1895, as great an idea as it was, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s suggestion had one flaw. He suggested a tower rather than something that had the ability to flex, such as a cable. Of course back then there was no suitable material, but now it is said that the creation of a 22,000 mile cable may actually be possible.

The cable will of course be anchored and will use a geo-stationary orbit to hold it in place with a counter balance to create a centre of mass. Here’s the Wikipedia entry for more detail. An elevator will run up it’s shaft.

From Time.com:

In order for the castle, or orbital counterweight, to remain stationary relative to the rotating earth, it would have to be located 22,238 miles (35,790 km) in space — or about 10% of the distance to the moon — where the time it takes to complete a single orbit matches the 24 hours it takes the Earth to turn. In low Earth orbit, say 220 miles (355 km) up, where most human space travel takes place, a single circuit is completed in a much brisker 90 minutes.

Read more on time.com

Google’s Sergi Brin is believed to have half a dozen engineers working on different aspects of the space elevator.

It’s a fantastic piece of science fiction, and so great to hear that someone like Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google is backing it. The only trouble is that the only likely structure that could be able to span such a distance is likely to be what has been christened ‘carbon nanotubes’, and as Time.com goes on to say “carbon nanotubes are the fallback material for nearly anything fanciful that hasn’t been invented yet”. Watch this space!

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